I had a peculiar sense of déjà vu reading new care services minister Paul Burstow’s interview in the Daily Telegraph the other day. While spoke about his hopes – and the need – for reform of adult social care, I had the funniest sense I’d heard it somewhere before.
Maybe because I have; about the time the green paper on adult social care was first mooted by the old Labour government a few years back. And a various points since then, up to and including the run-up to last month’s election (Doesn’t it seem a long time ago now?).
In the Telegraph interview, Burstow – who has a decent reputation within the sector – spoke of the need to find “a sustainable funding settlement for social care” and to reform a system that will soon become “not fit for purpose”.
Nothing new there. Many commentators – as well as service users and workers in the sector – have been saying this for years, to no avail.
There is also nothing new in his outline for the funding options that will be discussed by the upcoming independent commission; a voluntary scheme, a partnership scheme where state and individuals contribute, and a compulsory levy after death – yep, Labour’s much-derided ‘Death Tax’.
This is something of a turnaround for the government, which only referred to the partnership and voluntary models in its coalition document, released just a couple of weeks ago.
But what is new is a little detail on the timescale for reform. Those of us who thought that the coalition’s plans kicked the issue into the long grass now know how far; Burstow wants the soon-to-be-formed independent commission report back on funding options within a year, with a White Paper ready by autumn 2011.
He admits this is ambitious, but necessary as the Baby Boomers hit old age.
Nevertheless, it is good to see a timescale being laid out, even if it isn’t the one most people involved in the sector would have liked – in an ideal world reform would already have been carried out.
Also, carrying on with the positives, Burstow does seem to have a good handle on what needs to be done – saying it would be wrong to fixate on the problem of older people having to sell their homes to pay for residential care, something that the last consultation seemed to, almost with an eye on the upcoming election – and is willing to consider a range of options.
But what the independent commission comes up with remains to be seen – as does how different it will be to what came out of last year’s Big Care Debate – although the rumoured presence of economists on it suggests that it may be geared towards saving money.
Again, it feels like we’ve been here before. So while this could easily be a false dawn – and there have been enough of those over the years – at the moment, it is probably best to give the benefit of the doubt to the government, while all the time reminding them of what is needed and why, and to call them to account if they let the sector down.